Melbourne’s Federation Square to get $20 million facelift

Melbourne’s Federation Square will receive the largest upgrade in its 18-year history after a review called for community and cultural activities to be “front and centre”.

The $20 million upgrade funded by the State Government’s $2.7 billion Building Works stimulus program aims to improve the experience for visitors.

More than 1,800 people contributed to the review, which said the upgrade should create a new immersive regional experience centre to promote the state’s best food and wine, music and culture.

Initial changes that will be made include: greater recognition and celebration of First Peoples cultures; creating a more captivating experience; embracing the Yarra River and; connecting with nearby arts and sports precincts.

A strengthened focus on First Peoples culture, art, heritage and continuing connection to the site must be core to the square’s future, the review found.

Stakeholders also wanted a “refreshed retail and hospitality offering” that reflected Melbourne and could create a unique experience for visitors.

The State Government also agreed to ensure any future physical changes to the square “must aspire to match the quality of the original”, which would be enabled in part by a design advisory board.

The review found the square was “a much-loved icon” in the city but was “under increasing financial pressure to meet significant asset maintenance and renewal costs”.

The governance and business model of the square requires it to be principally self-funded and the review found this had led to commercial activities being prioritised over community, cultural or artistic activities.

One recommendation was for improvements to be made to how the square was governed and for a “more sustainable business and operating mode” to be established.

“Stakeholders saw this as a risk to the long-term value of Federation Square as a genuine community asset and a place for everyone.”

The State Government has accepted the recommendations.

The pedestrian walk along the Yarra River beside the newly designed Apple store.
An Apple store was proposed to replace the Yarra building in 2017 but was abandoned last year.(Supplied: Apple)

It is not the first time the square has been the topic of debate.

It was seen by many as cutting-edge architecture, but ridiculed by others as “a horror” and “appalling”.

Debate over the future of the square opened up in 2017 after the State Government agreed to allow a controversial Apple store to replace the Yarra building.

Those plans were canned after the Heritage Council of Victoria granted the building heritage status to protect its “historical, aesthetic, technological and social significance” in April last year.

The Apple store was suggested as a way to boost revenue for the square, which has struggled financially in recent years.

The heritage listing does not stop developments but means all works must be approved by Heritage Victoria under a permits process.